Have you been checking the App Store on your iPhone for that lovely little red badge that signals available updates? I have. I want the Facebook app update that might – finally – prompt me to want to use Facebook regularly. Y’know, like the kids these days do.
Not quite two weeks ago Joe Hewitt, the developer of Facebook’s iPhone application, submitted the latest version for review. The timeline here matters; in Apple’s published answers to the FCC’s questions, they assert that the average turnaround for an application – from initial submission to publication – is 14 days (assuming the app is not rejected due to technical problems or a violation of the Terms and Conditions of the App Store).
If we hit the 14 day mark and there’s no sign of the new Facebook app in the store – and no blog article, tweet or Facebook update from Hewitt on the app’s status – tech pundits everywhere will gleefully rub Apple’s metaphorical nose in it. With all the recent drama surrounding Google Voice’s App Store refusal, the world’s tech press is watching how Apple’s approval process even more closely than it was before.
Hewitt Speaks Out
Hewitt expressed his own unhappiness with Apple’s submission/approval policies in his blog yesterday. His article “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” provides eye-opening insight into the frustration he (and presumably thousands of other developers) feels with the current state of affairs;
“I have only one major complaint with the App Store, and I can state it quite simply: the review process needs to be eliminated completely.
Does that sound scary to you, imagining a world in which any developer can just publish an app to your little touch screen computer without Apple’s saintly reviewers scrubbing it of all evil first? Well, it shouldn’t, because there is this thing called the World Wide Web which already works that way, and it has served millions and millions of people quite well for a long time now.”
Hewitt addresses Apple’s claim that the submission/review process is a necessary step in quality assurance – that is, testing apps for bugs and other nasty software maladies that, if left unchanged, might ruin the user’s iPhone experience;
“Any bug that Apple finds after their two week delay would have been found by users on day one, and fixed on day two. I’d rather have a bug in the wild for one day than have an app in the review queue for two weeks.
…let’s face it, the real things they are looking for are not bugs, but violations of the terms of service. This is all about lawyers, not quality, and it shows that the model of Apple’s justice system is guilty until proven innocent. They don’t trust us, and I resent that, because the vast majority of us are trustworthy.”
This is a powerful indictment of Apple’s submission and review policies, coming from the developer of the platform’s biggest social networking application. It’s succinct, clear, intelligently composed and cohesive. Hewitt manages to do in just a few hundred words what some very high-profile tech pundits have labored to express using many hundreds more. And I hope the press takes notice, because this is as good as it gets.
Affects All Fish, Big and Small
So far, it seems, developers have not had a particularly strong voice in this chorus. When I interviewed Hwee-Boon Yar for my article on SimplyTweet, he expressed dissatisfaction with Apple, referring to the approval process as ‘broken’, adding;
“Approvals are unpredictable and payment is hard to track… I have waited weeks, sometimes only to have an update rejected; I worked out a fix, then had it rejected again. Each re-submission puts you at the back of the queue again.”
Hwee-Boon is just one of thousands of talented, ambitious developers who have endured endless frustration with the current procedures. But while SimplyTweet is enjoying its place amongst the better-known Twitter apps, it’s no Facebook. Having Joe Hewitt’s opinions aired publicly might work wonders for communicating a more personal, human and high-profile side to the story.
Apple’s broken approval process doesn’t exist in a vacuum where it affects only applications from the big players like Google and Facebook, but it doesn’t hurt to have the developers behind those big apps add their voices to the rising chorus of disappointment. Is Apple listening? I’m sure the FCC is…